Friday, June 5, 2015

The challenge of a life time : kicking coal...

Let's break down the necessity for the human species to change its "energy habits".

It begins with the premise that all resources in the world are finite, yes even the sun. And secondly, our survival depends on it. Now many people are still under the impression that Anthropogenic Climate Change isn't happening, NEWSFLASH it really is happening!!!

What are the implications in middle-term and long-term? (in escalating order)
  • Increased heat waves
  • Changes in precipitation from more gradual large volume to less volume torrential rains
  • This precipitates an unbalance in fresh water source replenishment and leads to depletion (see California, Texas, Nevada)
  • Increased water poverty
  • Crop famine
  • plant and tree life dying due to water scarcity or insect plagues
  • All this dying flora will release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
  • Ocean temperature is rising, this causes changes in the pyramid of marine life.
  • Eventually plankton fails to adapt to these rising temperatures and start dying

  • Plankton will die because of the increasing acidity levels in the oceans
  • An extinction of plankton would mean an extinction of almost the entire marine life pyramid

  • An extinction of plankton would very severely harm the biosphere's capacity to capture carbon and redistribute it as biomass, coupled with the die-off of land based fauna this will mean an uncontrolled rise in global temperatures, vastly exceeding the 4 degrees as predicted by several fossil fuel companies.

    And now for the grand finale!!!
  • The is quite certain that the arctic region holds somewhere between 100 and a 1000 GIGAtons of sequestered Methane. The current amount of methane in the atmosphere is roughly 5 gigatons. This means that if by some "accident" the methane from the Arctic gets released, we're probably "in for it". If this "methane-bomb" explodes all the aforementioned effects will speed up exponentially and 90+% of all life on Earth will cease to exist. This is a certainty...

It is that "simple" we are facing dire consequences if we do not mitigate our carbon emissions and start trying to reverse the collapse, which is already happening...

Now one the things that have a great influence on the climate are anthropogenic energy consumption patterns, mainly the consumption of fossil fuels, we burn them to create heat and motion. That's basically it! But the scale in which we do it is so vast that we're already seeing the cliff, we know there's an end to this route. We're going to reach the end of Coal around 2121 sounds quite specific doesn't it? This estimation can be found here. The end of oil is expected to be somewhere between 2050 and 2060, this estimation can be found here. And if this all isn't depressing enough, we will run out of Natural Gas as well, if current consumption rates continue we will run out somewhere between 2070 and 2080.

Let's face it, we are running out... If the world doesn't evict us before we have run out, we will run out there is no question about it. We have 100 years worth of coal burning left, 60 years of gas and 40 years of oil. This is no fable, this is the truth, any wingnut, any moron that is yelling that we need to be burning fossil fuels like crazy is out of his mind. But that was already clearly implied with the titles I used to describe them.

The demand for energy is going to increase, we have all sorts of drivers in this respect. Let's have a look at the growing economies and the developing countries. We [the west] are already energy hogs, we produce and consume energy at an alarmingly high rate and the "upcommers" want to do the same. They also want a life of plenty, prosperity, wealth. The demand for energy is still low in this regard, and yet the end of our energy sources in terms of fossil fuels are already in sight...

Let's have a look at the prime suspect, the culprit that is arguably one of the worst contributors to Anthropogenic Climate Change : Coal-burned power plants. There are about 2300 Coal-fired power plants in the world, an estimated 7000 individual "units". I guess that by "unit" they mean a furnace tied to a generator. Source :

Now let's have a look at something from which I could find a complete record, the total energy generation in the world in 2012 : 22.668 TWh. Source :

The fun bit is that 40.4% of this energy generation came from coal : 9158 TWh Let's assume this previously dictated number of 7000 generators was quite accurate in 2012 (give or take 500) : 1,308TWh (1308000 MWh) per Coal-fired generator. Now divide this number by 8766 hours gives a figure of 148MW per Coal-fired generator. They run 60% of the time which means that the total capacity of each of these generators on average is 250MW. This is roughly 750MW per Coal-fired energy plant, seems legit...

In total this would mean that there would be about 1.75 million MW/1750GW worth of coal-fired energy capacity in the world in the year 2012.

Why would I do this rather arduous math, I hate math!!! Well it's quite simple, I try to get a grasp of the scope of the problems we are facing here.

We want to supplant coal-fired energy, it's one of the most essential steps in aggressively mitigating our negative influence on the biosphere.

So I am going to look at two technologies in particular because that's where the discussions are leading me, wind's up first : An average 5MW wind turbine generates about 15340 MWh (0.01534 TWh) a year at a capacity factor of 35%. In order to fill up the 9158 TWh required to supplant every Coal-fired plant you need about 597.000 windmills. Filling up the 22.668 TWh gives us the stupefying amount of 1.48 million windmills every 20 years... This is only if we wanted to maintain business as it was in 2012 and only for the electricity portion of it.

The average Nuclear power plant is worth 862MW @ 90% of the time. This translates into 6800662 MWh / 6.8 TWh. We can supplant Coal fired electricity by building 1350 nuclear power plants... And somewhere in the range of 3300~3400 for the business as it was in 2012 for all electricity generation.

Now what seems more feasible to you? Acknowledge that there ARE 2300 coal-fired plants in the world, so supplanting them with a lesser number of nuclear power plants is absolutely possible and it can be done!

The problem is that energy demand is going to grow significantly, and we need heavy punchers to wack coal out of the equation. it will be unsurprising if the amount of energy required will grow with at least 15/30% within the next couple of decades. Let's soup things up with up by electrifying transportation, let's buy Tesla Model S shall we? Don't get me wrong!!! I think the Tesla Model S is an AMAZING car, I would like to own one very very badly. The electrification of the transport sector, the end of fossil fuels is going to shift the burden from fossil fuels to electricity generation.

Think about it, electrifying our transportation is going to take a shitload of electricity... This is going to make the demand for electricity going to grow waaaaaaay out of proportions. And yes, fossil fuels are running out, so we will be forced to do it... Want to stack up even more inefficiency in an already stressed energy sector? Add Hydrogen...  Nope, the hydrogen economy doesn't work, it is a ridiculous idea that is never going to work, ever...

How about strip mining? Do we want to get rid of it? Or at least mitigate it?

Then don't go for the most strip mine intensive process of them all... The less your energy density is, the more materials you are going to need, this is an absolute no-brainer which I can easily back up with math, but it's to cumbersome... I've run out of my "math juice" for the day...
And the great thing about nuclear energy is that it's basic fuels are ubiquitous! Not only can we do nuclear on Uranium and Thorium, but with SEA WATER as well! Yes Fusion is going to happen eventually...


Recapturing carbon will be one of the things we seriously have to consider, we need to balance the CO2 levels back below the 350PPM mark. It can be done naturally and mechanically. I'm not particularly fond of the latter because it takes energy to do it. So I will settle for natural carbon capture, which is quite easy to achieve actually. Reverse "deforestation" I will call it. We need to reverse deforestation... Let's start giving back some area's to nature, you know let forests grow, help them a little bit by germinating your own tree seeds and such... Not that I'm a real tree-hugger, but I love the atmosphere we live in and trees play a pretty big role in keeping the air breathable...

Honest disclaimer : I am a nobody, don't cite me, I don't have any credentials or credibility, don't take my word for it, be very sceptical about my writings, go and look for the truth yourself. If you do, I'm quite certain that it will roughly coincide with what I've presented to you in this article.

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